With the recent health problems of my elderly mom, and some deaths in the families of people I care for — not to mention the exhausting of coping with that heavy snowfall — I’ve hardly had time to skim the many books we have about Lent. Whether you follow the liturgical calendar fastidiously or not, you know, I bet, that we all have sorrows and hardship, and the mind-boggling stuff happen in society temps us to cynicism or meanness.
We all need a season to slow down, focus on our relationship with God, and see how the story of Christ’s own journey to Jerusalem might help us on our way.
You need this as much as I do, I bet.
So, here are some new suggestions for your own discipline of reading in these next forty days.
First, here’s a short list of some serious Lent titles done a year ago, and a longer older one, here. And don’t miss this review I did of CIty of God: Faith in the Streets by Sara Miles which narrates one day of her and her comrades doing an Ash Wednesday distribution of ashes right out on the streets in her urban neighborhood. It is brilliantly written, remarkable, really, and inspiring. Agree or not with all the crazy Jesusy liturgical stuff happening at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, Miles is one of the most interesting memoirists writing today, and her faith journey into the streets with bread (begun in her amazing Take This Bread, followed by Jesus Freak) is very much worth reading.
Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days Trevor Hudson (Upper Room Books) $8.99 This is a very simple little book, a simple idea, but one which may be surprisingly significant. The practice of pausing to reflect on just For each of the 40 pages there is the word of the day, a short Bible text, a brief mediation, and a practice or exercise for the day. This reflection on one word/do one thing isn’t too complicated, but, it does invite us to carve our a few minutes each day and then do something, be attentive to something. Hudson is a serious thinker and activist (working for a Methodist Church in Benoni, South Africa. His strength is gospel formation, spiritual direction and pastoral therapy, but he has also been outspoken about wholistic mission and social justice.
Lent for Everyone: Luke, Year C: A Daily Devotional N.T. Wright (WJK) $16.00 You may recall us talking about being with Tom again this past fall, and I was reminded just how thrilling he is to listen to, how innovative yet convincing, orthodox on the stuff that matters most, willing to push us just a bit, inviting those in the more extreme camps to find fresh ways to inhabit the Biblical story in reliable, coherent ways. These short readings around the Year C lectionary texts are like that — exciting and a bit outside the box, at times, but not overly revolutionary. He’s not trying to to be novel or reinvent the wheel or start a fad. This is just really good, solid Bible exposition with visionary application for ordinary folks in real churches. He sees things in the text worth seeing and helps us reflect on both their first century and contemporary meanings. There is some suggestion or an invitation to pray about something at the end of each reading, and a closing prayer.
Meeting God in Paul: Reflections for the Season of Lent Rowan Williams (WJK) $12.00 Few who know his eloquent books or have heard this remarkable communicator would argue that he is one of the great, provocative, and important theologians of our day. That he served as the Archbishop of Canterbury illustrates his significance in our religious landscape. And, my, he writes a lot, and usually pretty deep and serious stuff. He’s written lately about Narnia, about the power of language, and public theology. Here, he offers a simple, basic, daily devotional for Lent, drawing — as the title obviously shows — the Pauline epistles. Richard Burridge (who wrote Imitating Jesus on New Testament ethics a decade ago) says,
Vintage Williams! This simple but profound introduction to Paul will be helpful at any time of the year, but the final questions and Bible studies for reflection will greatly assist those wishing to read it during Lent.
Stephen Cottrell, after remarks about deep knowing that comes from grappling with serious complexity and becomes so integrated that it seems simple, notes, “Rowan Williams seems to have arrived at a point where a lifetime’s learning and praying is distilled into profound simplicity.” Nice, eh? You should get this book — it will surprise you, perhaps, but you will be touched and deepened by it.
40 Days of Decrease: A Different Kind of Hunger. A Different Kind of Fast Alicia
Britt Chole (Thomas Nelson) $14.99 This is a hard book to describe,
but I hope it is a big seller this season, a book that can have a huge
impact as we learn to give up not the standard stuff like chocolate or
designer coffee or facebook, but, rather, stuff like apathy and
injustice, resentment and hypocrisy and such. All of the love of God.
this is a zippy evangelical author (with a degree from George Fox
Seminary) and there is a blurb on the back from the even more zippy
Hillsong worship Leader Darlene Zschech (who, by the way, says it is
“intuitive, prophetic, and profoundly inspiring, calling forth a
revolution of soul health”) but also from Reverend Dr. Otis Moss (of the
large and famously radical African American congregation, Trinity UCC
in Chicago) and from the intellectual, Reformed apologist Ken Boa and
the poetic singer-songwriter Sara Groves and the edgy social worker
/contemplative, Nathan Foster. In other words, this book — which draws
on Thomas Hopko, Alexander Schmemann, and Thomas Merton, and quotes
historical scholars like Martin Hengel and the ancients like Philo —
has a pretty wide following.
40 Days of Decrease invites us to work out this stuff, day
by day, with forty good chapters, each day letting go of those things
that rob us of meaning and deep spirituality. This helps us move into a
time of holy decrease — “holy when its destination is love. We thin
our lives,” she says, “to thicken our communion with God.’ What a line,
eh? This is a very good, and very nicely arranged book, designed to
Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide compiled by Sarah Arthur (Paraclete Press) $18.99 This handsome and altogether lovely book is a companion to her best-selling Advent one, Light Upon Light and her compilation of readings for Ordinary Time called At the Still Point. It is, I suppose you know, a literary guide — with quotes from T.S. Eliot, Mary Herbert, Scott Cairns, Dostoevsky, Dickens, and so many more. There are excerpts of short stories and novels alongside prayers and poems. There are weeks worths of readings, and then specific ones for the days of Holy Wee, and then 7 more weeks of Eastertide. What a gem of a book, a great resource for preachers, pray-ers, or anyone who likes such intelligent devotional material. “A thing of beauty” said Phyllis Tickle, “What a delight to find so extraordinary collection” says Kathleen Norris. Highly recommended.
God for Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter edited by Greg Pennoyer & Gregory Wolfe (Paraclete Press) If you read our BookNotes post of Advent resources, you may recall that we promoted over the last few years the extraordinary God With Us. The original edition had glossy paper, full color artwork, and the writing was by some of the Christian community’s finest writers. It was such a handsome volume, and so well written! (Of course it was; Gregory Wolfe is the editor of Image Journal, after all.) This past year we announced that the Christmas hardback was no longer available, but a less expensive and very, very classy paperback was released, called the Reader’s Edition. It had the same devotional content, but not hardback, and with most of the artwork deleted. French folds, expertly done, it was very, very nice.
A similarly designed Reader’s Edition was recently released for the accompanying Lent version. It is nice, but includes no art pieces.
Here’s the thing: we still have some of the hardback versions of the Lenten one, God For Us. These are the last ones in the world, we’re told, and they are available only while supplies last. (They sell for $29.99 before our BookNotes discount and are well worth it as they are beautiful.) If you have a hardback God With Us you know. You will want to get the hardback God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter edited by Pennoyer & Wolfe while you still can.
However, if you got the paperback God With Us this past Christmas — and we heard a lot of folks really loved it! — then maybe the handsome God for Us Reader’s Edition is what you’ll want to get as a matching volume.
God With Us hardback sells for $29.99 before our BookNotes discount.
God With Us Reader’s Edition paperback sells for $18.99
Both include meditations, prayers and poems by Beth Bevis, Scott Cairnes, Kathleen Norris, RIchard Rohr, Ronald Rolheiser, James Calvin Schaap, Luci Shaw, and Lauren Winner. Wonderful.
John: The Gospel of Light and Life Adam Hamilton (Abingdon Press) $18.99 Hamilton is increasingly one of the most well-recognized Christian pastors and authors today, and his several Advent and Lenten resources have been used by millions. (His book that came out this fall was called The Call and is a study of Paul.) Hamilton is clear, pretty mainline in his orientation, and eager to help people encounter God in sincere, relevant faith On the back cover it says “This Lent, join Adam Hamilton and experience a season of spiritual growth and life-changing renewal while exploring major themes from John.”
Endorsements come from Gail R. O’Day (Dean and Professor of New Testament and Preaching at Wake Forest School of Divinity) and J. Ramsey Michaels (who did the prestigious, academic NICNT on John, by the way) as well as Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church in DC, who says “In this book on the Gospel of John, Adam Hamilton’s passion for Scripture and skill as a teacher are on display. Writing in his engaging, accessible style, Hamilton reveals the theological and symbolic layers of John and, in doing so, opens a door to its depths of meaning.”
This Lenten study (which could be used any time, actually) is divided into six parts for ease of study and reading.
There is also a six-session DVD ($39.99) and a Leader’s Guide $12.99. The Leader Guide contains everything needed to guide a group through the bible study program including session plans and discussion questions, as well as multiple format options. This guide centers around the book, the videos, and Scripture.
Lent 2016: The Gift of New Creation Thomas L. Ehrich (Abingdon Press) $9.99 EVery year, Abingdon does a Bible study for small groups or adult ed classes based on the Revised Common Lectionary. Ehrich (who once was a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal) is an Episcopal priest whose primary ministry is now traveling, writing again (a syndicated column called “On A Journey.”) He is well suited to help us reflect on how Lent prepares us for living into the new creation Christ has inaugurated. This is an ideal Scripture study for this time of year, 7 weeks. Each session naturally includes leader helps and discussion questions. It’s great to see back cover copy that says “Key Scriptures call us to prepare and to contemplate God’s restoration and new creation through the death and resurrection of Jesus.” New life writ large, eh? Looks great.
Near the Cross: A Lenten Journey of Prayer Kenneth H. Carton, Jr. (Abingdon Press) $9.99 Evert year Abingdon released as Lenten resource — somewhat similar to the above listed one — that is not tied to Lectionary readings, but is thematic. This year it is about praying with the mind and heart of Jesus. Ken Carter is a popular Bishop (in the FLorida Conference) of the United Methodist Church and has published serious stuff on the Bible, on sacraments, on prayer. He likes to note that he has preached in mega-churches and very small rural parishes, synagogues, camp meetings, and university chapels. His sermons have appeared on “The Protestant Hour and in Christian Century. This seven week study could be used by individuals for your own weekly study during Lent or it could be done in a small group or class. Each chapter contains questions for reflection and discussion, a brief prayer, and a practical focus for the upcoming week.
Seven Last Words: An Invitation to a Deeper Friendship with Jesus James Martin, SJ (HarperOne) $18.99 Martin is one of the most popular Roman Catholic writers working today, a fine and thoughtful writer — and a funny guy. He is a Jesuit and in this book, he follows the time-honored tradition of offering a series of mediations on the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. These were real homilies preached at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York last year. Cardinal Timothy Dolan says they are “spiritually rewarding and uplifting.”
As Sister Helen Prejean (of Dead Man Walking) writes, “This insight alone makes this book worth reading: Jesus endured suffering, so he understands ours.”
The Undoing of Death Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans) $22.00 I often recommend this at the end of Lent, since I tend to read it during Holy Week (There are sermons here for each day of Holy week, and several for after Easter, too.) It is one of my all time favorite collections of sermons — all done by Revered Rutledge over her 27 years at her Episcopal parish in NYC. Many sermons illuminated by historic art work, pictures and architecture, making them all the more interesting. These messages are about what happens in the crucifixion and death of Christ, what we mean by this claim that in His death, death is defeated. This is eloquent, meaty, substantive and at times very moving. Highly recommended!
Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter Laura Alary (Illustrated by Ann Boyajian) $15.99 Wow, what a wonderful children’s book, delightfully illustrated and nicely told. It is an invitation for children to wonder about the Lenten story, helping children to experience Lent with all their senses. They are taught to see it as a special time for creating a “welcoming space for God.” As it says on the back, “Simple activities like cleaning a room making bread and soup, and inviting a neighbor for supper become acts of justice and kindness, part of a life following Christ.”
The story unfolds telling the child what “we” do — meaning the church of which she is a part. Maybe your church isn’t “dressed in purple” and maybe you don’t have a Maundy Thursday service (but I sure hope you do!) I don’t go to a lake for a sunrise service as this parish does, but kids can realize that it’s the kinds of things some churches do. I think it is a fine book for almost any kind of Christian.
As Gary Neal Hansen (author of Kneeling with the Giants) writes,
The book reveals what is usually hidden: what we knew as penitential is actually life-giving and faith-building. After reading the book to my kids, my five year old daughter exclaimed “I can’t wait for Lent! I just can’t wait!”
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